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Midweek Review

Govt-civil society imbroglio

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Civil society activists are sharply divided over their strategy to deal with the government. The majority of them have found fault with the Sri Lankan Collective for Consensus (SLCC) for undermining the overall civil society strategy by entering into a high profile dialogue with the government.

The Sri Lanka Civil Society Forum (SLCSF) in particular is disappointed over the way the SLCC handled contentious issues. The outfit is concerned that the government would take advantage of the ongoing dialogue with the SLCC thereby cause irreparable damage to achieving a post-war national reconciliation on their terms.

The issues at hand, in the eyes of SLCSF, are curbs on civil society, enactment of the 20th Amendment, continuing use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), threats on social justice activists and media, transitional justice, enforced disappearances, arbitrary use of quarantine regulations, inordinate delay in a political settlement to the national problem, delay in proper investigations into 2019 Easter Sunday attacks and the delay related to introducing reforms to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act.

The SLCSF consists of 30 organisations, including Families of the Disappeared, Centre for Policy Alternatives, IMADR- Asia Committee, Right to Life Human Rights Centre, Women and Media Collective, Rights Now for Collective Democracy, Centre for Society and Religion, Women’s Action Network, Mothers and Daughters of Lanka, Centre for Women and Development – Jaffna, Law and Society Trust, AHAM Humanitarian Resource Center (AHRC), Trincomalee, Rural Development Foundation, Institute for Social Development, Janawabodha Kendraya, Web Journalist Association of Sri Lanka, Eastern Social Development Foundation, Human Elevation Organisation, National Fisheries Solidarity Movement, National Fisher Women’s Federation, Mannar Women’s Development Federation, Malarum Mottukal Women’s Collective, Alliance for Minorities, Rule of Law Forum, Food First Information and Action Network – Sri Lanka, International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Mannar Social and Economic Development Organisation, Citizens Committee Human Rights Centre – Gampaha, Sri Vimukthi Fisher Women Organization and Centre for Human Rights and Development.

The live wires in the SLCSF are Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Dr. Gehan Gunatilleke, Dr. Nimalka Fernando, Dr. Mario Gomez, Dr. Sakunthala Kadirgamar, Rev. Rohan de Silva, Britto Fernando, K. S. Ratnavale, Ms. Shreen Saroor, Ms. Ambika Sathkunanathan, Philip Dissanayake, Ms. Kumudhini Samuel, Godfrey Yogarajah, Prabodha Ratnayake, Ameer Faaiz, Thilak Kariyawasam, Ms Saroja Sivachandran, Aruna Shantha Nonis, Ms Bhavani Fonseka, Ruki Fernando, Periyasami Muthulingam, Gowthaman Balachandran, Sudarshana Gunawardana, Freddy Gamage, Abdul Ramees, Ms Sumika Perera, Ms Marreen Srinika Nilasini, Asanka Abeyrathna, Ms Mahaluxmy Kurushanthan, Herman Kumara, Jehan Jegatheesan, Yartan Figurado, Shantha Pathirana, Ms A.D. Rajani, Ms M. Kusum Silva and Vinoth Anthony.

However, some of those who represented the SLCSF, in a statement issued recently, strongly criticised the SLCC. Inquiries revealed that statement hadn’t been issued as the SLCSF but signified a major rift among civil society groups since the last presidential election in Nov 2019. The media received that statement from Ambika Sathkunanathan, former outspoken member of the Human Rights Commission (HRC). She resigned from the HRC in early March 2020. Her resignation fueled speculation that she would campaign for the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) at the general election scheduled for April 2020 but later postponed to August 2020. When one Chanaka Dissanayake tweeted on January 9, 2021 that Sathkunanathan exposed HRC being biased by throwing her weight behind the TNA campaign, she tweeted: “after I resigned from HRCSL, was asked to contest by TNA & refused. Was on National List but never campaigned for TNA. Was never part of or participated in their election or any other campaign. Pls fact check. Care to comment on current Chair-HRCSL being a politician? She was referring to Dr. Jagath Balasuriya, formerly of the SLFP parliamentary group being appointed HRCSL Chairman by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

In spite of severe criticism, the SLCC, spearheaded by Dr. Jehan Perera, one-time darling of the Norwegians, has sustained the project and seems to be confident in continuing with the effort. Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris recently addressed a conference, organised by the National Peace Council (NPC), the leading element in the SLCC. The Foreign Minister and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peremuna (SLPP) Chairman’s participation at the event, organised on the theme of ‘Plural Sri Lanka: Paths to Reconciliation’ underscored the government appreciation of that particular civil society grouping.

It would be pertinent to mention that both Prof. Peiris and UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet referred to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government entering into a dialogue at the March 2021 Geneva sessions. The government seems somewhat comfortable in having a continuous dialogue with at least a section of the civil society as part of overall efforts to appease Western powers.

Unfortunately, the incumbent administration has conveniently forgotten the dire need to contradict an accountability resolution co-sponsored by the yahapalana government in Oct 2015. That contentious resolution based on unsubstantiated allegations resulted in strictures.

Western powers insulted the war-winning Sri Lanka Army by refusing to accept retired military officers as Ambassadors or High Commissioners, denied visas to serving and retired officers, and the US named Army Chief General Shavendra Silva as a war criminal.

The government seems unaware that the NPC has absolutely no interest in genuine reconciliation. Perhaps the government does not care to set the record straight. Beset by a range of simmering political and economic issues, the government appeared to have placed the accountability issue on the back burner. If the NPC is genuine in its efforts, it would have certainly made a bid to reconcile the communities by helping the government to establish the truth.

The writer was not surprised when NPC acknowledged that war-related matters hadn’t been discussed at the nearly two-year-long reconciliation project that brought together students from Eastern, Jaffna, Ruhuna and Sabaragamuwa Universities.

Pointing out those post-war reconciliation efforts had been badly hampered by allegations that the Sri Lankan military killed over 40,000 civilians on the Vanni east front, The Island sought clarification as regards measures taken by the NPC to improve relations among the communities, and the following question was raised:

The Island: During your two-year long project did participants discuss specific war crimes allegations and disclosure made in the House of Lords in Oct 2017 that contradicted unsubstantiated accusations pertaining to 40,000 civilian deaths.

Executive Director NPC Dr. Jehan Perera: “No, we did not discuss these war-related matters. The project was titled “Creative Youth Engagement for Pluralism” and it focused on the nature of Sri Lanka as a plural society and the value framework that should guide it.

It would be a grave mistake on the government’s part to believe the SLCC would assist Sri Lanka counter lies. Dr. Perera was quite close to the yahapalana administration, the late Mangala Samaraweera accommodated him on the Sri Lanka delegation to Geneva sessions in March 2018. There hadn’t been a previous instance of civil society representing the government in Geneva.

Regrettably, the incumbent government for some unexplained reason, continues, to refrain from making a proper response on behalf of the war-winning armed forces in Geneva. Information (Gash papers) provided by Lord Naseby that may help Sri Lanka to challenge lies remain unused. The British Conservative Lord, a true friend of Sri Lanka, made them available to us in late 2017.

Whatever the differences among the civil society members, they would never under any circumstances help Sri Lanka to counter war crimes accusations. Those who receive foreign funding and sponsorships cannot help the Sri Lankan military clear its name. They have to dance to the tune of their Western pay masters. The government will realise its folly at the next Geneva session in March 2022.

Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka alleged in Parliament recently that modern-day Mahawamsa chroniclers had done a grave injustice to those who led the fight, with their poor recording of Eelam War IV. Sri Lanka’s failure to counter Western strategy should be examined taking into consideration the war winning Army Chief’s accusation.

SLCC under fire

A statement issued by Ambika Sathkunanathan, on behalf of a group of individuals, dealt with a statement, dated Nov 29, put out by the SLCC following consultations with the government. The statement condemned the government-SLCC dialogue on the PTA. Dismissing proposals meant to reform the PTA, the group called for repeal of the PTA and in the interim an immediate moratorium on the use of the law.

The group reiterated that any law that purports to deal with terrorism must adhere to international human rights standards. The following are the signatories to the statement issued by Sathkunanathan: S. Annalaxumy, Bisliya Bhutto, S.C.C. Elankovan, A.M. Faaiz, Brito Fernando, Nimalka Fernando, Ruki Fernando, Aneesa Firthous, Amarasingham Gajenthiran, T.Gangeswary, K. Ginogini, Ranitha Gnanarajah, B. Gowthaman, S. Hayakirivan, V. Inthrani, Noorul Ismiya, Dr. Sakuntala Kadirgamar, S. Kamalakanthan, Mahaluxmy Kurushanthan, Kandumani Lavakusarasa, Jensila Majeed, Buhary Mohamed, Juwairiya Mohideen, Jaabir Raazi Muhammadh, P. Muthulingam, Thangaraja Prashanthiran, Dorin Rajani, Maithreyi Rajasingham, A.R.A. Ramees, V. Ranjana, K.S. Ratnavale, Yamini Ravindran, Kumudini Samuel, Thurainayagam Sanjeevan, Shreen Saroor, Ambika Satkunanathan, Rev. Fr. S.D.P. Selvan, S. Selvaranie, Vanie Simon, P.N. Singham, Usha Sivakumar, N. Sumanthi, Vani Sutha, Ermiza Tegal, S. Thileepan, P. Vasanthagowrey, Rev. Fr. Yogeswaran, Adayalam Centre for Policy Research Alliance for Minorities, Centre for Human Rights and Development Centre for Justice and Change, Eastern Social Development Foundation, Families of the Disappeared, Forum for Plural Democracy, Law and Society Trust, Mannar Women’s Development Federation, Rural Development Foundation, Tamil Civil Society Forum, Viluthu, and Women’s Action Network.

Some sections of the civil society feel the SLCC’s dialogue with the government can be exploited by the latter. They question the incumbent government’s sincerity as tangible measures haven’t been taken to address the grievances of the minorities. The SLCC comprises Ven. Kalupahana Piyaratana Thera – Convenor, Inter Religious Alliance for National Unity, Chairman, Human Development Edification Centre, Bishop Asiri Perera – Retired President Bishop of Methodist Church, Rev. Fr. C.G. Jeyakumar – Parish Priest Ilavalai and Lecturer at the Jaffna Major Seminary, Human Rights Activist, Dr. Joe William – Founder member and Chairman of National Peace Council, Director, Centre for Communication Training and Convenor, Alliance for Justice, Prof. T. Jayasingam – Director NPC, former Vice Chancellor of Eastern University and former member, Public Service Commission of the Eastern Provincial Council, Prof. Kalinga Tudor Silva – Professor Emeritus Dept of Sociology, University of Peradeniya, Dr. Dayani Panagoda – Social Activist, former director of Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process and Lecturer, former member of the Official Languages Commission, Ms. Visaka Dharmadasa – Peace Activist, Chair of Association of War Affected Women, Dr. Jehan Perera – Founder member and Executive Director of NPC, Dr. P. Saravanamuttu – Founder Executive Director, Centre for Policy Alternatives, Hilmy Ahamed – Vice President Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, Sanjeewa Wimalagunarathna – Former director of Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms, Rohana Hettiarachchi – Executive Director PAFFREL, Javid Yusuf – Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, former member of Human Rights Commission, former member, Constitutional Council, former principal, Zahira College and Founder member and Governing Council member, NPC, Varnakulasingham Kamaladas- President STA solidarity foundation, Convenor, Assembly of Hindus for Peace and Harmony, and Ms. Sarah Arumugam – Human Rights Lawyer (This list was made available by Dr. Perera in response to the writer’s request)

Focus on post-Easter Sunday attacks

A second statement issued by Ambika Sathkunanathan on behalf of smaller group of activists namely Radhika Coomaraswamy, Nimalka Fernando, Sakuntala Kadirgamar, Chulani Kodikara, Rehab Mamoor, Yamini Ravindran, Thyagi Ruwanpathirana, Kumudini Samuel, Shreen Saroor, Ambika Satkunanathan and Muqaddasa Wahid following a two-day visit to Batticaloa dealt with the difficulties experienced by those affected by the Easter Sunday carnage. The National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) targeted a church in Batticaloa.

The statement focused on the continued challenges faced by the Christian community in exercising their right to practice their faith freely and without fear. The group blamed the situation on both extra-legal state interference, as well as social discrimination by the Hindu community and the Catholic Church. The group stated: “Christian pastors highlighted the phenomenon of Hindu groups that propagate Hindutva-like ideologies and have affiliations to the Shiv Sena in India, targeting the Christian community.

Other forms of discrimination, marginalisation and harassment of the Christian community include denial of permission to establish places of worship, preventing them from using the public cemetery, denying their children admission to national schools, interruption of prayer meetings, including through the use of violence, and perpetration of violence against pastors. We were informed that complaints to the police often have no impact as the police do not take any action. The security agencies reportedly visit churches and request information about congregants, supposedly to ensure that those who are not part of the congregation are not allowed to enter the churches. The pastors however stated this only served to intimidate them and was contrary to the open and inclusive policy they practiced of welcoming persons of all faiths.”

The group appeared to have ignored controversial statement made by TNA heavyweight M.A. Sumanthiran, PC within days after the Easter Sunday carnage. Lawmaker Sumanthiran alleged that the Easter Sunday carnage was a result of Sri Lanka’s failure to ensure certain basic values. Did he justify the Easter Sunday attacks?

The Jaffna District MP warned of dire consequences unless the government addressed the grievances of the minorities. MP Sumanthiran said that no conversation took place without reference to Easter Sunday attacks. The lawmaker said that the public were asking what was going to happen because the country was stunned by what happened on that day. Sumanthiran: “All of us were so complacent we lived in a fool’s paradise imagining that the country was at peace in the absence of violence.”

As there had been no fighting for 10 years people assumed the country had attained peace. All that was shattered that morning on Easter Sunday, the MP said.

Such an attack would have happened some day because the country had not laid the foundation for peaceful co-existence in this country the TNA heavyweight said. “What we saw was a false edifice. And we were quite happy to carry on with that. Three decades of violent conflict that emanated from the North and East kept us on our toes and those days we actually saw the need to address those issues in a very deep and meaningful way”.

Sumanthiran alleged that once the war was brought to a conclusion in May 2009, those responsible assumed there was no requirement to address those issues. They continued to pay lip service, the lawmaker alleged, adding: “Whenever issues were raised, they say they must resolve those issues. But deep down, they didn’t feel those issues had to be addressed”.

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry that probed the Easter Sunday carnage owed an elucidation as to why an explanation was not sought from Sumanthiran. In fact, the writer brought to the PCoI’s notice the TNA MP’s statement when the police unit attached to the outfit recorded his statement as regards the justification of terrorist attacks.

Many years before Sumanthiran entered Parliament as a TNA National List MP in 2010, his party recognised the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people. Did the LTTE achieve TNA’s cooperation at gun point? The LTTE and the TNA worked as a team. It was a deadly combination.

Following the 2004 general election, the European Union Election Observation Mission faulted the TNA for receiving the LTTE’s backing to secure the lion’s share of parliamentary seats in the Northern and Eastern provinces with the latter stuffing the ballot boxes.

Having faithfully served the LTTE throughout the war, the TNA backed General Sarath Fonseka’s candidature at the 2010 presidential election. The civil society didn’t find fault with the TNA for backing the war-winning Army Commander nor blamed the group for depriving the Northern Province Tamils of their right to vote at the 2005 presidential election. The LTTE and the TNA worked on this project together. No less a person than R. Sampanthan, the current TNA leader confirmed the decision with this writer a few days before the election. Dr. Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu was the only civil society activist to take a courageous stand against the LTTE-TNA polls boycott decision.

The government should realise that it should set the record straight in Geneva. The current Geneva project cannot be reversed by engaging the civil society and the Tamil Diaspora. The recent announcement made by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as regards an SLN intelligence officer and former Staff Sergeant of the Army underscored the fact that the sinister Western agenda was continuing. The recent declaration of the above-mentioned officers as gross violators of human rights should be examined against the backdrop of Army Commander General Shavendra Silva still being blacklisted.



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Midweek Review

Ranil takes premiership amidst BASL bid for all party-consensus

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A smiling Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe reacts to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa after receiving the premiership. Gamini Senarath, Secretary to the President looks on. Mrs Maithri Wickremesinghe was present at the brief ceremony at the President’s House, Fort last Thursday evening (pic courtesy PMD)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Retired Supreme Court Justice Rohini Marasinghe, in her current capacity as the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), directed the police to provide adequate protection for the President and the Prime Minister while protecting the freedom of speech and assembly through necessary and proportionate measures.

Justice Marasinghe, who received the appointment in Dec, last year, would never have believed she would be compelled to issue such a statement.

The HRCSL statement, issued on April 26, 2022, over a month after the eruption of violent protests at the private residence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, at Pengiriwatta, Mirihana, that lasted for several hours, didn’t name the President and the Prime Minister.

Mahinda Rajapaksa quit Temple Trees on May 10, less than 24 hours after he announced his resignation, in the wake of unprovoked violence directed at those demanding the resignation of both the President and the Prime Minister and the so-called peaceful protesters who lay siege to his official residence Temple Trees virtually making, him a prisoner therein.

The first protest, targeting President Rajapaksa, was held at Pangiriwatte, Mirihana, on March 31, 2022. What began as a peaceful protest in the vicinity, quickly turned violent after the crowds made attempts to advance towards the President’s private home. The deployment of the Army, in support of the beleaguered police, failed to bring the situation under control.

Protesters set ablaze several vehicles, including two buses that brought Police and Army reinforcements to the scene of the unprecedented confrontation. Therefore, it would be pertinent to discuss the circumstances, Justice Marasinghe called for sufficient protection for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, over two weeks after the launch of the protest campaign, in front of the Presidential Secretariat, on April 09, 2022.

Perhaps, the HRCSL should have also advised the Army, as well as the Special Task Force (STF), regarding adequate protection for the President and the Prime Minister. The Army and the STF play an integral role in the protection of key leaders. The HRCSL cannot be unaware of the involvement of the Army and the STF in the protection of the President and the Prime Minister.

Justice Marasinghe called for ‘necessary and proportionate measures’ to meet the threat on the two leaders as those who had been demanding their resignation stepped up the campaign.

The HRCSL consists of five Commissioners, namely Justice Rohini Marasinghe (Chairperson), Venerable Kalupahana Piyarathana Thera, Dr. M.H. Nimal Karunasiri, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara and Ms. Anusuya Shanmuganathan. The President constituted the HRCSL in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution in Dec. 2020. Justice Marasinghe and Ven. Kalupahana Piyarathana Thera were brought in Dec. 2021 in the wake of the resignation of HRCSL Chairman Jagath Balasuriya and NGO, guru Harsha Kumara Navaratne taking up the post of Sri Lanka High Commissioner to Canada.

Did HRCSL make an assessment before Justice Marasinghe issued instructions to the police? The HRCSL intervened in the wake of the erection of a new protest site, opposite Temple Trees, as the government struggled to cope up with an unprecedented political-economic-social crisis that brought the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) to its knees.

The writer, over the last weekend, sought a clarification from Justice Marasinghe. The HRCSL Chief said that instructions were issued as access to the residences of the President and the Prime Minister had been blocked. The HRCSL was also informed of possible threats to their lives, Justice Marasinghe said, adding that the issue at hand should be examined on the basis of equal protection of the law.

In spite of HRCSL’s instructions, the police, and at least an influential section of the SLPP government, appeared to have been caught napping. Was it due to the fear of the wrath of the HRCSL or they being under the so-called international community spotlight? In fact, the law enforcement authorities had contributed to the rapid deterioration of the situation to such an extent that mobs took control of roads. Had the police top brass realized the gravity of the situation, in the first week of May, they would have definitely advised the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa not to summon several hundreds of his supporters to Temple Trees. The failure on the part of the police to advise the ousted Premier was nothing but a monumental blunder.

In fact, the police appeared to have been part of a political project meant to dismantle those who had been protesting against the government, while laying siege to both Temple Trees and the Presidential Secretariat. The operation was meant to regain control. Therefore, a primary objective was to silence those who had been asking Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to step down.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, too, has been of that view, in the wake of about one-third of the SLPP parliamentary group demanding Premier Rajapaksa’s resignation to pave the way for an all-party interim administration.

PM, family take refuge in SLN base

Just two weeks after HRCSL asked the police to ensure protection of the President and the Prime Minister through ‘necessary and proportionate measures’ the latter had to move out of Temple Trees, under heavy security escort. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had to authorize the deployment of SLAF assets to evacuate the ex-Prime Minister and some members of the family. They took refuge at the strategic Eastern Naval Command premises, Trincomalee.

By then, Yoshitha Rajapaksa, the ousted PM’s second son and Chief of Staff and his wife, Nitheesha Jayasekera, had left the country. Interestingly, Yoshitha left for Singapore at 12.50 am on May 09 on Singapore Airlines flight SQ 469 several hours before SLPP activists started arriving at Temple Trees.

Yoshitha Rajapaksa couldn’t have been unaware of the meticulous plans underway to bring in hundreds of supporters from all parts of the country to Temple Trees where the Prime Minister was to address them. Those who believed Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa was to announce his resignation were proved wrong. Instead, lawmaker Johnston Fernando and the then Premier Rajapaksa created an environment conducive for an ‘operation’ to evict those who had been protesting against the Prime Minister and the President. The operation boomeranged. The end result was the Prime Minister having to take refuge in the Trincomalee Navy base.

Two days later, the Fort Magistrate’s Court issued a travel ban on Mahinda Rajapaksa, MP Namal Rajapaksa and 16 others. They are Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Johnston Fernando, Sanjeewa Edirimanne, Rohitha Abeygunawardena, C.B. Ratnayake, Sanath Nishantha, Kanchana Jayaratne (Pavitra Wanniarachchi’s husband), Sampath Athukorala, Mahinda Kahandagama, Renuka Perera, Nishantha Abeysinghe, Amitha Abeywickrama, Pushpalal Kumarasinghe, Dilip Fernando and Senior DIG Deshabandu Tennakoon. The Senior DIG had been present at the time, SLPP goons broke through the police line, near the Galle Face hotel, to demolish the Galle Face protest camp.

The Magistrate also imposed a travel ban on seven others who had been wounded during the violence on the fateful Monday or were eye-witnesses to the attacks.

President of the Colombo High Court Lawyers’ Association Lakshman Perera told the writer that the Attorney General‘s Department moved the Fort Magistrate’s court amidst preparations made by his outfit to move the court. Speaking on behalf of the Association, Perera underscored the pivotal importance of ensuring the safety and security of all, regardless of whatever the accusations directed at them.

For how long would the ex-Premier have to live under the protection of the Navy? In response to media queries, Defence Secretary retired General Kamal Gunaratne told a hastily arranged press conference, at the Battaramulla Defence Complex, that as a former head of State Mahinda Rajapaksa was entitled to required security. When would the ex-PM be able to move freely as protests demanding President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation continue amidst traffic disruptions on main roads, especially over shortage of cooking gas? The situation remains extremely dicey.

Politically-motivated mobs destroyed many properties belonging to the Rajapaksa family. Mobs set ablaze the Rajapaksas’ ancestral home at Medamulana, Hambantota, and did not even spare the memorial built for their parents also at Medamulana, while the former Premier’s home in Kurunegala, too, was destroyed.

Properties belonging to elder brother, Chamal Rajapaksa and his son, Shashendra were also destroyed.

Gangs set fire to Green Ecolodge, situated very close to the Sinharaja rain forest. The hotel, situated close to the UNESCO heritage site, is widely believed to be owned by Yoshitha Rajapaksa, who recently warned JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake of legal action against the accusations made in respect of Green Ecolodge. But the JVP instead of backing their accusations regarding that prized eco-property (torched by the politically-motivated mobs early last week) with facts, issued a veiled threat to expose Yoshitha on some other issues if he dared to go to courts. Comrade Nalinda Jayatissa told the media that they would raise his fake qualifications, how he managed to enter the famed British naval college Dartmouth, etc., if he ventured to challenge them in court.

Well organized mobs also looted and set fire to properties of over 50 MPs, mainly of the government, across the country. They and their families were left with only the clothes on their backs.

Politicos under threat

The government should do everything possible to prosecute those responsible for incidents of violence, regardless of their status. Destruction of lawmakers’ properties should be denounced and punitive action taken against all those responsible. Who would take the responsibility for killing SLPP Polonnaruwa District MP Amarakeerthi Atukorale and his police bodyguard at Nittambuwa? The slain MP was on his way home, after attending the Temple Trees meet earlier in the day. Did Atukorale open fire on those who blocked his path? Did his police bodyguard, too, open fire? The post-mortem revealed the MP had been lynched and contrary to initial reports there were no gunshot injuries. The post mortem also set the record straight that the MP didn’t commit suicide with his own weapon as initially claimed by interested parties over the social and mainstream media. Having allowed SLPP goons to go on the rampage, the police pathetically failed to intervene when the public retaliated. Politically-motivated groups obviously took advantage of the situation. At an early stage of the ongoing protest campaign, German Ambassador in Colombo Holger Seubert tweeted: “I’m impressed with how peaceful the proud people of Sri Lanka are exercising their right to freedom of expression. It reminds me of German unification back in 1989 when we experienced how powerful peaceful protests can be. Wishing all parties involved the strength to remain peaceful.”

During the second JVP inspired-insurgency, the then JRJ government issued firearms to members of Parliament. Some lawmakers formed their own death squads. The government accepted extra-judicial killings as part of the overall defence against the JVP/DJV violence perpetrated against the UNP and those connected with that party.

Members of the SLPP raised security issues at a meeting they had with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the President’s House last Saturday (14). The government shouldn’t expect normalisation of the situation until tangible measures are taken to stabilize the national economy. Lawmakers wouldn’t be safe as long queues for diesel, petrol and cooking gas exist with the vast majority of the electorate struggling to make ends meet. The government should be mindful of interventions made by foreign powers and other external and internal players hell-bent on exploiting the situation to their advantage.

Recent demonstrations near the Parliament compelled the police to close several roads for traffic on May 05 and 06. The police closed the section from Diyatha Uyana junction (Polduwa junction) to Jayanthipura junction and from Jayanthipura junction to the Denzil Kobbekaduwa road to deter mass invasions by well organised demonstrators. The police asserted that closure of the roads were necessary, in spite of the inconvenience caused to the public, to prevent hindrance to lawmakers entering and leaving the parliamentary complex.

The police closed down the same sections of the roads yesterday (17) to facilitate parliamentary proceedings. Trade unions combine and the Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF) have vowed to lay siege to the Parliament. The warning that had been made several days before the May 09 mayhem should be reviewed. The trade union grouping and the IUSF affiliated to the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), the breakaway JVP faction, should be mindful of the crises the country is experiencing.

A tragedy

War-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa having to take refuge in the Trincomalee SLN base is a tragedy. Mahinda Rajapaksa gave resolute political leadership to Sri Lanka’s war effort at a time the vast majority of lawmakers felt the LTTE couldn’t be defeated. Therefore, many accepted peace at any cost. They were prepared even to give up Sri Lanka’s unitary status in a bid to reach a consensus with separatist Tamil terrorists mollycoddled by Western powers. Mahinda Rajapaksa had the strength and political acumen to take on the LTTE. The country should never forget how President Rajapaksa, in spite of strong objections from the military, flew into Kebitigollewa on June 15, 2006, in the immediate aftermath of a claymore mine attack on a passenger bus. The blast killed over 60 men, women and children. Having visited the survivors, President Mahinda Rajapaksa gave an assurance that the terrorism would be eradicated. The promise was made two months before the LTTE resumed large-scale offensive action in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful end in May 2009. But, the President, who restored peace, has ended up virtually running for his life and had to seek refuge in a military installation for the time being as post-war policies and strategies take their toll with interested parties taking advantage of the tragedy facing the country.

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Midweek Review

Up for Grabs

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By Lynn Ockersz

It’s the Horse Trader’s hour once again,

And fierce bargaining unfolds on Stage;

Creatures stomping with iron hoofs,

Displaying teeth of menacing length,

And merciless whips for tongues,

Are receiving top most billing,

By ‘Strutting and Fretting’ business Heads,

Trying now to sit in saddles under siege,

But in a hitherto nodding land,

That’s suddenly come rudely awake,

These are risky sleazy deals to make,

For, the moment has already arrived,

Wherein hunger has turned Ploughshares,

Into Spears of divisive hate and vengeance.

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Midweek Review

Possible link between TID head’s arrest and Easter Sunday massacre baffles retired DIG

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Retired DIG Priyantha Jayakody, one-time police spokesman, last Saturday (07) advised the police on how to deal with the current wave of protests. Jayakody addressed the media in the wake of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declaring a State of Emergency following police crackdown on protests near the Parliament. The retired top cop urged his former colleagues not to give into illegal orders, under any circumstances. Jayakody is the first retired top cop to declare his support for the ongoing countrywide campaign for political reforms.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Actor Jehan Appuhamy carried a life-sized cross on his shoulder from Katuwapitiya, in the Katana electorate, to the entrance of the President’s Office (Old Parliament), Galle Face, where a high profile ‘Go Gota Home’ campaign was underway.

The three-day trek began at the St. Sebastian Church premises, on April 19, where exactly three years ago Achchi Muhammadu Muhammadu Hasthun detonated his suicide device, killing over 100. Hasthun is widely believed to be one of the bomb makers, responsible for six suicide blasts, in the space of 20 minutes, beginning at 8.45 am on that particular day. The first detonation occurred at the St. Anthony’s Shrine, Colombo, Kochchikade, at 8.45 am. Other blasts ripped through Kingsbury, Colombo, at 8.47 am, St. Sebastian’s Church, Katuwapitiya, also at 8.47, Shangri-La, Colombo at 8.54, Cinnamon Grand, Colombo at 9 and Zion Church, Batticaloa at 9.05.

In addition to those planned blasts, there were two explosions – one at the Tropical Inn Guest House, Dehiwela, where one terrorist triggered his explosive device, and the last blast at Dematagoda, where Fatima Ibrahim, the wife of Inshaf Ibrahim (the Cinnamon Grand bomber), blew herself up, killing three police commandos. The blast also claimed the lives of her three young sons and her unborn child.

Actor Appuhamy’s endeavor received the blessings of the Catholic Church, campaigning for justice. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference has repeatedly demanded that the perpetrators of the Easter Sunday massacre, as well as those who failed to thwart the conspiracy, due to sheer negligence, or some other reasons, be punished, regardless of their standing in the society.

Appuhamy completed a 25-mile long journey, on April 21, on the 13th day of the ‘Go Gota Home’ campaign. A group of Catholics joined a protest launched opposite Temple Trees, three days later, demanding justice for the Easter Sunday carnage. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference members, and the Archbishop of Colombo, Rt. Rev. Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, has pledged their support for the ongoing campaign, demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the entire Cabinet-of-Ministers, including Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Quite a number of Catholics displayed placards, demanding justice for the Easter Sunday victims, an issue that has sharply divided the country, experiencing the worst-ever post- independence economic-political and social crisis.

Retired Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police, Priyantha Jayakody, in an open letter, addressed to Defence Secretary, retired Gen. Kamal Gunaratne, published in Annidda, in its May Day edition, has questioned the failure on the part of the incumbent dispensation to bring the perpetrators of the Easter Sunday massacre to justice. Jayakody also queried the inordinate delay in completing the high profile investigations, launched during the yahapalana administration, into the alleged attempts to assassinate the then President Maithripala Sirisena and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the incumbent President.

The current dispensation couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for not adequately addressing the grievances of the Catholic Church, Jayakody told The Island. It would be a grave mistake on the government’s part to believe the issues, at hand, would be forgotten in a couple of years, therefore the current protests could be ignored. Jayakody, who had served the Police Department for almost 40 years, retired in late April 2021.

Namal Kumara affair

Ex-DIG Jayakody asserted that the arrest of DIG Nalaka Silva, the head of the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) on Oct 25, 2018, over his alleged involvement in an attempt to assassinate President Maithripala Sirisena and incumbent President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (then an ordinary citizen) may have facilitated the Easter Sunday suicide mission. Declaring that at the time of Silva’s arrest, the officer had been tracking the would-be Shangri-La bomber, and the leader of the suicide squad, Zahran Hashim, Jayakody questioned whether the investigator was falsely implicated in an alleged assassination plot to clear the way for the dastardly suicide attacks.

Jayakody emphasized that the conspirators had intervened when the investigation reached a crucial stage. Did the government pay sufficient attention to the unwarranted delay at the Attorney General’s Department, in respect of its failure to deal with Zahran Hashim’s file? The National Catholic Committee for Justice, in a missive, dated July 12, 2021, addressed to President Goabaya Rajapaksa, referred to the conduct of the Attorney General’s Department. The Committee pointed out to the President, the PCoI (Presidential Commission of Inquiry) recommendation to the Public Service Commission (PSC) that disciplinary action be taken against State Counsel Malik Azees and Deputy Solicitor General Azad Navavi (PCoI Final Report, Vol 01, p 329).

The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) arrested Silva after having questioned him over a period of five days. At the time of his arrest, Silva had been suspended on the instructions issued by the National Police Commission (NPC).

Jayakody pointed out how within 24 hours after the TID Chief’s arrest, President Maithripala Sirisena sacked the Cabinet-of-Ministers, including Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. In spite of Mahinda Rajapaksa being sworn in as the Prime Minister, he couldn’t prove a simple majority in Parliament. A disappointed President Sirisena had no option but to dissolve Parliament, on Nov 09, 2018, and set January 05, 2019 as date for parliamentary election. But, the Supreme Court intervention restored Ranil Wickremesinghe’s premiership. Thus President Sirisena’s plan for January 05, poll was thwarted; thereby the stage was set for scheduled presidential election.

According to Jayakody, the arrest of the TID Chief, over alleged assassination plots, automatically crippled the unit. Those who had been attached to the TID were looked down, both by other police officers and men, as well as the public.

The retired top cop questioned the role played by the media, particularly the television channels, in propagating claims made by police informant Namal Kumara, as regards alleged plots to assassinate President Sirisena and incumbent President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Pujith Jayasundera, who had served as the yahapalana IGP, is on record as having told the PCoI that Namal Kumara was paid by the Presidential Secretariat. Jayasundera quoted Dr. Saman Kithalawarachchi, the then Chairman of the Presidential Narcotics Bureau, as having told him that Namal Kumara served as a lecturer and was paid by the Presidential Secretariat.

Jayakody, in his open letter to Gen. Gunaratn, asked for the status of the investigation launched, following Namal Kumara’s unprecedented claims. “The people have a right to know. The government, under siege over the economic fallout, should come clean,” Jayakody stressed, adding that the ongoing countrywide protests reflected the crisis the country is in today.

Key issues

The Police Department owed an explanation to the public regarding the status of the investigation into the disgraced TID Chief’s alleged involvement in planned political assassinations. DIG Jayakody said that the incumbent dispensation, having repeatedly assured justice for the Easter Sunday victims, was yet to bring a critically important investigation into the Namal Kumara affair, to a successful conclusion. The need for a thorough investigation into the constitutional coup, perpetrated by President Maithripala Sirisena immediately after DIG Silva’s arrest, cannot be ignored. Would Zahran Hashim have gone ahead with the attacks if the constitutional coup succeeded? DIG Jayakody raised the following unresolved accusations leveled by Namal Kunara:

* DIG Silva dispatched a police hit squad, that had been assigned the task of carrying out VIP assassination, to Batticaloa

* DIG Silva sought special weapons used by snipers

* DIG Silva conspired with the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe

* Involvement of Thushara Peiris, a person living overseas, in the assassination conspiracy

*Conspiracy to involve ‘Makandure Madush’ in the conspiracy

Suspected drug baron, Samarasinghe Arachchige Madush Lakshitha, alias ‘Makandure Madush,’ was shot dead in the early hours of Oct 21, 2020. Madush was killed, under controversial circumstances, while being in police custody. At the time of the incident, Madush had been in the custody of the Colombo Crime Division (CCD). The police claimed that Madush received gunshot injuries at the Lakshitha Sevana apartment complex at Applewatta, in Maligawatta. Madush was brought to Colombo on May 05, 2019, from Dubai, where he was arrested on February 05, 2019.

Jayakody questioned the rationale in Namal Kumara’s accusations, TID Chief’s arrest and delivering a crippling blow to investigations into Zahran Hashim’s outfit. Finally, the wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who had been the alleged target of a police assassination attempt, won an opportunity to contest the 2019 presidential election, on the SLPP ticket. Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the mandate of 6.9 mn votes whereas the other claimed target, Maithripala Sirisena, in his capacity as the SLFP leader, contested the 2020 General Election. Sirisena re-entered Parliament having contested the Polonnaruwa electoral district. The SLFP group, in the current Parliament, comprised 14 lawmakers, including one National List MP. Except for Angajan Ramanathan, elected on the SLFP ticket (Jaffna District), the remaining 13 entered Parliament on the SLPP ticket.

Ex-DIG Jayakody said that in the wake of the SLPP victory, they expected rapid progress, not only in the Easter Sunday massacre probe, but also investigations into the Namal Kumara affair. Jayakody compared the investigations into the Easter Sunday attacks, and the Namal Kumara affair, with that of the 1962 coup attempt meant to remove the then Premier Sirimavo Bandaranaike from power. Jayakody recalled how top military personnel, who had been accused of the bid to assassinate Premier Bandaranaike, were dealt with the following investigations. Unfortunately, investigations into Namal Kumara’s disclosure hadn’t been completed, even over three and half years after the arrest of TID Chief.

In his open letter, Jayakody posed the following questions to Gen. Gunaratne: (i) Would you disclose the current status of the investigations into claims made by Namal Kumara (ii) Would you explain why cases hadn’t been filed in court against ex-DIG Nalaka Silva or other suspects involved in the alleged assassination attempts (iii) Have the investigators succeeded in verifying the claims made by Namal Kumara? If the accusations could be verified, what delayed all suspects being arrested? In respect of those who had been arrested so far, what caused the delay in the government moving court against them? (vi) Have the investigators realized that there is no basis for Namal Kumara’s accusations? If so, why a case hadn’t been filed against the former police informant over making false accusation and finally (vii) Could you explain the failure on the part of the government to conduct investigations speedily in spite of one of the two main targets of ex-DIG Nalaka Silva, as alleged by Namal Kumara, is serving the incumbent administration as the President, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, and the other leader of a constituent party and a lawmaker.

Cardinal’s stand

The government should be mindful of the consequences of further delay in bringing the investigations into a conclusion. The widely held belief that the incumbent dispensation deliberately delayed, or undermined the investigations, may cause quite a serious situation, particularly against the backdrop of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) taking up the issue last year. Sri Lanka Co Chairs at the UNHRC, too, have taken up the issue.

Jayakody warned that unless the government, at least now, dealt with the Namal Kumara affair properly, the public would believe it was related to the Easter Sunday conspiracy. According to Jayakody, the public are gravely suspicious of Namal Kumara ‘drama’ being the precursor for later developments. Jayakody questioned Gen. Gunaratne’s response to Archbishop of Colombo Rt. Rev. Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith’s repeated demands for justice. Referring to Gen. Gunaratne’s recent response to the Cardinal’s public criticism of the handling of the Easter Sunday investigations, Jayakody asserted that the Defence Secretary’s advice to the Cardinal that he should inform the CID of any relevant information without making public statements sounded like a challenge. Jayakody emphasized that the Cardinal had taken the issue beyond the CID against the backdrop of growing suspicions that justice couldn’t be expected under the current dispensation.

Jayakody, identifying himself as a Catholic, drew the government’s attention to the Cardinal’s fight, both here and abroad, that has attracted the attention of the international community. The retired top cop stressed that the government hadn’t so far been able to counter the spate of issues raised by the Catholic Church regarding the Easter Sunday massacre. Instead of challenging the Catholic Church, the government should answer pertinent questions.

Responding to The Island queries, Jayakody emphasized that he didn’t want to issue a character certificate to DIG Nalaka Silva. Jayakody said the issue at hand is whether Namal Kumara, at the behest of some interested party/parties, directed a spate of allegations, at the then TID Chief Silva, to create an environment conducive for law enforcement authorities to move against DIG Silva. Had Silva received the wrath of the powers that be, as he pursued the now proscribed National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) responsible for the Easter Sunday massacre?

The Easter Sunday massacre created an environment that undermined the yahapalana administration. The public responded to the SLPP’s assurances to ensure security in the run-up to the 2019 Presidential Election. Three years later, those who vowed to deal with extremism and terrorism are under fire over the failure to unravel the Easter Sunday mystery.

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